Kent Downtown Partnership’s grant program adds to downtown ‘curb appeal’

Steve Saint Louis had wanted to make some minor enhancements to the outside of his shop, Earthworks Gem Design Studio. Simple things, really. Just something to make his business stand out a bit more.

  • Wednesday, August 13, 2008 1:00am
  • Business

Steve Saint Louis points to the new awning at his shop. The awning was purchased in part with matching grant money received from the Kent Downtown Partnership.

Steve Saint Louis had wanted to make some minor enhancements to the outside of his shop, Earthworks Gem Design Studio. Simple things, really. Just something to make his business stand out a bit more.

“There were some certain things we wanted to do to enhance the curb appeal of our spot,” he said.

Luckily for Saint Louis, the Kent Downtown Partnership this year introduced the Facade Improvement Matching Grant program for just such an occasion.

With the program in mind, Saint Louis hired Greg Bartol of Studio B, whom Saint Louis said did work on other parts of the block, to create a proposal for a new awning, which Saint Louis then presented to the KDP.

Earthworks received $800 from the KDP – which Saint Louis matched with his own $800 investment – and today a brand new awning welcomes shoppers to the corner location.

“People really notice it,” Saint Louis said. “The real bonus … is that anything we do to visually enhance the curb appeal is good for everybody.”

Earthworks is the first shop in the historic downtown area to complete a project using funding from the matching grant program. The program was designed to encourage store owners to enhance the look of their buildings, according to KDP board member and Chamber of Commerce President Mark Albertson of Albertson Law Group.

“The whole idea of this program is to stimulate the efforts of the Downtown Partnership to restore the street appearance of the historic downtown,” Albertson said. “When you have a pretty, safe, clean downtown, you’re going to attract more shoppers.”

Albertson said the KDP has received an “influx of new money” thanks to a Business and Operations tax rebate program that allows local businesses to divert tax dollars to the business’s hometown.

In Kent, the KDP, which manages the funds, created the facade improvement program, offering 50 percent of the costs for facade improvement, new awnings or new signage, up to $4,000, $1,500 and $1,500 respectively. The grant will also cover 100 percent of architectural assistance, which Albertson said will allow business owners to see what can be done for their buildings without having to spend any money out of pocket.

“I’d like to give away every dime of money I have to give away every year,” Albertson said.

The money can be used by any KDP member to improve a building’s exterior facade.

So far, Albertson said, the response has been good, with Earthworks getting the first check and Children’s Bookstore & Teaching Supplies getting the second.

Children’s Bookstore has received $2,300 from the KDP, which covers the business’s architectural costs as well as other improvements.

Bookstore owner Karl Beavers said improvements were in store for the building’s entranceway, including some fresh paint and post detail. Beavers also plans to remove metal siding from the store, and replace that with a wisteria-holding trellis, a move that Albertson said will restore the building to the way it looked in the 1920s.

“I would not have done any of the improvements without the funds,” Beavers said. “It really made the difference.”

Albertson said the improvements to the bookstore are especially important because of its location linking the Historic Downtown with Kent Station.

“That’s a gateway store,” he said. “The more we can do of (the improvements), the more people will be inclined to come to downtown Kent to shop.”

Both Beavers and Saint Louis said while they appreciate the improvements to their stores, they made the improvements primarily to benefit the downtown as a whole.

“The main reason we did it was to help downtown Kent,” Beavers said.

Saint Louis agreed, adding that he is a firm believer in the phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats,” meaning that as one building makes improvements, the whole downtown benefits.

“By doing this type of thing,” he said, “we’re helping that tide rise.”

For more information on the Facade Improvement Matching Grant Program, call the Kent Downtown Partnership at 253-813-6976.

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